Elizabeth Mann: Clinton’s Educational Agenda?

Sep 22, 2016 by

An Interview with Elizabeth Mann: Clinton’s Educational Agenda?

Michael F. Shaughnessy –

1) Elizabeth, first of all, tell us about yourself and what you do at the Brookings Institute.

I’m a political scientist by training. I’m a Fellow in the Brown Center on Education Policy at Brookings, where my research and writing focuses on the politics of education policy.

2) Let’s start with generalizations – what has Hillary Clinton said about education – Does she have a specific platform? Or has she stated her views on Common Core? Has she ever compared and contrasted her views to Trump?

As I mention in a recent blog post, Clinton has taken several clear positions on K-12 education issues that align with teachers unions, such as opposing federal mandates for tying teacher evaluation to test scores and voicing support for “fewer and better” tests. She supports charter schools, which not all union members are in favor of. She also supports the Common Core – check out EdWeek’s great primer on the candidates’ positions for more details.

3) There are issues of Federal control, and there are issues of state control – Has Hillary taken any kind of specific stance, or has it just been vague generalities?

I’m not aware that Clinton has taken a specific stance on K-12 education issues in favor of state versus federal control, although I would argue that in education, that dichotomy oversimplifies the issue a bit. ESSA carves out a clear place for state and local education agencies to make decisions, while at the same time, the federal government retains oversight authority over state education agencies.

The current legislative context is also important when thinking about how candidates will discuss their positions on education. NCLB increased the federal role in education to an unprecedented degree, and many perceive NCLB as a failed solution to our education problems. There was also pushback to the Obama administration’s use of waivers, which some saw as executive overreach because the waivers required states to adopt specific policies in exchange for flexibility from NCLB. Ultimately, many welcomed ESSA as a return to more state control and a roll-back of federal intervention.

Also, it’s important to keep in mind that Clinton is supported by the NEA and AFT who, generally speaking, are in favor of more flexibility for state and local education agencies. For all of these reasons (and, as I discuss in the blog post, despite the support that civil rights groups have voiced for the importance of federal oversight), I’d be surprised if Clinton made a strong statement in favor of federal control, even though that might contradict where we typically would place Democrats in the federal vs state control debate.

4) ESSA is thought by some just to be another NCLB – more of the same.  Or has Hillary fought for something for teachers or education?

As far as I can tell, most folks actually welcomed ESSA as a clear departure from NCLB. The new law grants states and local education agencies more authority & flexibility compared to NCLB on a number of issues, like developing accountability systems for schools. ESSA does retain testing requirements from NCLB, so in that sense, people may make the argument that it’s more of the same.

ESSA was passed by Congress in 2015 and signed by President Obama, so Clinton was not involved in this particular piece of legislation.

5) Obviously the teachers unions are important- but has she reached out to them- and made any comments about class size, dealing with discipline problems- assisting teachers with kids with special needs? Or has she avoided specifics?

As I mention above, Clinton has expressed support for several policies that unions are in favor of. And speaking to teachers unions is definitely a part of her campaign – she spoke at the NEA annual meeting in April, for example. On the other hand, as I mention above, her support for charter schools does rankle some union members. She has addressed a number of specific issues, including discipline issues – I’ll refer you to the EdWeek summary for more details on the various policies she’s addressed.

6) Any statement from Mrs. Clinton about Common Core? And will she be able to dodge this in the upcoming debates?

It appears that she supports the Common Core State Standards – see EdWeek’s helpful summary. I don’t know that this is something Clinton would want to “dodge” in debates, despite the current politicization of the Common Core brand. It’s important to keep in mind that recent survey data from EdNext in their annual poll suggests that many people (Dems and Reps) do in fact support standards for reading and math “that are the same across the states,” although as the EdNext folks discuss, the Common Core brand itself has become “toxic.” But in any case, I don’t see Clinton having a harder time discussing her position on Common Core than on any other polarized issue.

7) In this age of terrorism, civil unrest ( yesterday in Charlotte for example ) are teachers unions all that important? Or are police unions more important to Mrs. Clinton?

There are, as you mention, a number of different high priority issues (and high priority constituencies) that any candidate needs to be responsive to. I don’t think it’s a question of which group is more important, but rather, it’s more a matter of addressing the needs of different groups who you represent and whose political support you need and/or want.

8) What have I neglected to ask?

I think that an important consideration in any election, and especially in this election, is what each candidate’s experience across policy areas tells us about their views. It’s easy to say you support or oppose one thing or another, but what’s telling is how each candidate’s record of public service speaks to his or her beliefs, positions, and likely policies. I think one question that’s important to ask, then, in assessing Clinton and Trump’s positions on education issues, is what each person’s record suggests about 1) their understanding of the challenges the U.S. education system faces today, 2) their positions on key education issues, and 3) what we can infer about the kinds of policies they might promote.

9) Where can readers reach your blog?

I’m a regular contributor for the Brown Center Chalkboard blog, which is run by the Brown Center on Education Policy at Brookings. Here’s a link to my most recent post.


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